Entering the 2011 football season no one quite knew how good the Kansas State offense was going to be. The team had lost Daniel Thomas to the NFL, a player who accounted for over 1,700 total yards in 2010 and there were still lingering questions regarding the quarterback situation. Many people had hoped that incoming recruit Justin Tuggle could give Bill Snyder the true duel threat option from behind center that it appeared Collin Klein could not.
Flash forward to the end of the 2011 regular season and there should be very little concerns over how the K-State offense will perform in the 2012 season. Even though the Wildcats still have not played Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl it is never too early to take a look ahead.
With any offense whether college or professional you have to start with the quarterback and luckily for KSU fans their signal caller will be back for the 2012 campaign. While he is still never going to be confused with Andrew Luck from a passing perspective, Klein showed this season that he has the overall talents to lead a Top 10 football team. He was efficient passing the ball with over 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns to only five interceptions to complement his running skills. One would have to assume that with all the surrounding talent that K-State has coming back he would not have to subject his body to as much punishment in 2012 but with it being his senior season we will see.
The same starting players in the Wildcats backfield this year, Braden Wilson at fullback and John Hubert at tailback, will also be back next season to join Klein. Much like Klein, neither player was highly recruited coming out of high school but each was very important in the Wildcats run in 2011. In replacing Thomas as the starting tailback, Hubert ran for 933 yards but he had just three touchdowns as Klein received the bulk of the carries near the goal line. Also back will be reserve tailback Angelo Pease who flashed some ability in his limited work as he showed against KU when he ran for 61 yards on just 8 carries. It was Pease who entered the game to take the snaps when K-State went out of the Wildcat formation and you would have to expect Bill Snyder to add more wrinkles into this package next season. So it would appear the Wildcats starting backfield is already set for next season barring something totally unexpected happening such as Bryce Brown magically reappearing in Manhattan with a newfound work ethic.
When moving out to take a look at the wide receiver position for 2012 the prospects continue to look bright for K-State. The only main contributor that the Wildcats lose from this season is senior Sheldon Smith who was only the sixth leading receiver on the team based on total yards. The teams leading receiver, Chris Harper, will be back for his senior year and it appears for now he will be joined by fellow senior Brodrick Smith. If Smith can return to the form he showed early in the 2010 season it could provide the Wildcats with one of the best receiving corps in the nation as the Wildcats also return two other key contributors in Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson.
Maybe the most important returning receiver will be the aforementioned Lockett as he provided the Wildcats with an element of speed and quickness not seen with the other receivers. Before going down with an injury, Lockett had been able to change games for K-State with not only his rushing and receiving skills but also his ability to either score or greatly affect field position as a kick returner. In 2011, Lockett led the entire nation in average yards per kickoff return with 35.2 yards.
Yet another diminutive receiver hailing from the State of Oklahoma will also be returning next season in Tramaine Thompson. Despite not putting up huge numbers, Thompson provides another experienced option for Klein to throw too. He is capable of providing a big play as he showed in the season finale against Iowa State when the Cyclones had taken an early 7-0 lead before Klein hit a streaking Thompson for a 68 yard touchdown to tie the game.
Having four proven veterans at the wide receiver position allows Snyder flexibility in his formation choices since the defense has to respect each player. It also spreads the defense out which in turn allows Hubert and Klein more room to run the football.
So the Wildcats return virtually their entire collection of skill position talent from a team that finished the year #8 in the final BCS rankings but all that talent means nothing if the quarterback does not have time to throw or lanes to run through. Let's look at what Bill Snyder and his staff have coming back down in the trenches.
Starting with the tight end position, which is essentially a lineman in the K-State offense, the Wildcats return both Travis Tannahill and Andre McDonald. Both players are strong blockers who get rewarded with a pass attempt their way every so often as they combined for only 17 catches in 2011. McDonald in particular is pointed out as another lineman on the field due to his size at a listed 6'8" 276 pounds.
The offensive line should be the area of most concern for K-State heading into next season as the Wildcats lose both starting tackles to graduation in Zach Hanson and Clyde Aufner. Who will be the starting tackles next season is anyone's guess as there could be shuffling amongst returning players or a newcomer could get first crack. One player who figures to be in the mix for a starting tackle spot either on the right or left side is freshly committed and signed junior college recruit Tavon Rooks. A four star recruit from Navarro J.C. in Texas, Rooks is listed at 6'6" and 270 pounds. Word is he will be in Manhattan for spring football which should greatly enhance his chances of learning the offense and competing for a starting position.
The interior of the line looks to pretty solid with B.J. Finney returning at center and Nick Puetz coming back to man the left guard position with the only loss being at right guard with the graduation of Colten Freeze. Once again this could be an area of shuffling as the Wildcats will welcome back Shaun Simon who opened the year as the teams starting center before being injured. Replacing three starters on the offensive line will definitely be a chore but if anyone can be expected to do so with great success it should be Bill Snyder.
So while all the media buzz at the moment is focused on the recruiting efforts of Charlie Weis at KU, Bill Snyder quietly looks to have his best collection of offensive talent returning since he himself returned to coach K-State. As it appears now on paper anyways, the Wildcats should improve upon their 33.1 points per game they averaged in 2011.